As introduced last week, we will now begin exploring the seven capital vices, and their opposite corresponding virtues. This week we begin with the vice of pride. Pride is ascribing to ourselves an excellence or greatness that we do not possess; or believing that we are the cause of our own greatness or excellence; or desiring to be singularly great, and despising everyone else who might compete with us. Pride is, as I said last time, the mother or queen of all the vices. That’s because before disobedience, it was really pride that led to the fall or sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They desired or thought themselves to be like God, and that led to their disobedience to him. They did not want to be confined by their limitations as creatures. In fact, it is being discontent with our status as being created by God that has led to some of the great sins of our society today – such as wanting to control the beginning and the end of human life, wanting to redefine marriage, etc.
The thing to keep in mind with pride is that with it comes spiritual blindness – i.e., not seeing ourselves as God sees us. And that means both the good, as well as our weaknesses and frailties. We can build up illusions about who we are by busying ourselves with our work or career or school, or our family, even being involved with the Church. We convince ourselves that we are motivated by a strong work ethic, or good moral values, or even by love for God, when really, we’re just running away from God by running away from ourselves – running away from or hiding from the very things that God wants to root out and heal because we’re afraid to deal with them. In such cases, we may not really pray, but only stand before the presence of a god we have created ourselves.
When our pride is challenged, we try harder and harder to improve our own illusion of holiness or productivity. One of the symptoms of pride is when we are completely resistant and defensive when we receive any constructive criticism, or are asked to make a change. Another symptom is when we are very impatient with or completely intolerant of the foibles, sin, weakness, or pride of others – when we hold onto resentments over the ways people have offended or wronged us. Our pride loves to think: “How could this person have done this to me?!”
How do we work against the vice of pride in our life? Ultimately, as with all the vices, we must allow the Holy Spirit to convict us and we must be touched with the love of Christ, and that will help us to grow and develop pride’s opposite and corresponding virtue: humility. Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us: both the good and our weaknesses – having a true opinion of ourselves. One of the best ways to find greater humility is to ask for it, and to be attentive to resentments that we might be holding onto, our tendency to compare ourselves with others, and our general impatience with others.
I think it’s also important to note that when one struggles with a low self-esteem, or insecurity, or a feeling of inferiority that can paralyze them from stepping out of themselves – this is also a manifestation of pride. It’s not humility because it’s not rooted in a true image of self. It’s just pride in the other extreme.